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Samsung Galaxy S7 review: The best smartphone around — still

Update: With Apple iPhone 7 and OnePlus 3T now out in the wild, you probably want to know how these two high-end flagships compare with the Samsung Galaxy S7. To help you out, we’ve added a concise analysis to the tail end of this review, comparing the OnePlus 3T and iPhone 7 with the Samsung Galaxy S7. You can skip straight there using the dropdown menu above, or read on for our original review of Samsung’s superb flagship phone.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: In full

When we first looked at Samsung’s Galaxy S7 there was no doubt it was the best Android smartphone you could buy. Since then several other phones have hit the market, not least Samsung’s own Galaxy Note 7 and Apple’s iPhone 7, so does it still merit its place at the top of the table?

One thing hasn’t changed though: you still face a choice between the S7 and the S7 Edge. But unlike previous generations, it’s now a much clearer choice than it was. If you like your smartphones big, you’ll want to opt for the 5.5in Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and pay a bit more; if you don’t like having to sew up holes in your pockets every few months, the smaller, slightly cheaper 5.1in Samsung Galaxy S7 we’re reviewing here is the way to go. Either way, we think you are still getting the best smartphone on the market.

There. I said it. You don’t even have to read the rest of the review if you don’t want to. You might as well go out and buy one right now if you want to save yourself the effort. It’s good, great even. Trust me.

But you’re not going to do that because you’re here to find out more. You want to know exactly why it’s so fantastic. Why the design is better, the features more feature-y and the camera more capable than the compact you spent hundreds of pounds on ten years ago.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: What’s new?

So, without further ado, here’s our review of the Samsung Galaxy S7. We’ll start with a closer look at the major changes, most of which are impossible to spot from a cursory physical inspection.

The first feature of note is storage expansion. Galaxy fans were in uproar about the lack of a microSD slot in last year’s models, so Samsung has brought back the feature here. It’s the sensible thing to do, and Samsung hasn’t compromised on the design of the phone to do it either. The microSD card is neatly hidden away next to the nano-SIM card in an elongated SIM drawer on the top edge, meaning there’s no unsightly second slot to muddy the phone’s clean lines.

The dust and water resistance is another nice feature making a comeback here that doesn’t impact on the look and feel of the phone. It’s an upgrade on the IP67 protection of the Samsung Galaxy S5, too, which was the last Samsung flagship to have the feature.

Technically, this means it’s possible to completely submerge the phone in up to 1.5 metres of water for up to 30 minutes, so you could use it to take pictures of hermit crabs in rock pools – if that’s what floats your boat.

I prefer to think of it as extra peace of mind. With the Galaxy S7, you don’t have to worry about getting your phone out when it’s raining, or putting it down on a beer-soaked table in the pub. From that perspective, it’s something that’s well worth having.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Specification and price

5.1in Super AMOLED display, Quad HD resolution, always-on
Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8890 processor (2 x quad-core CPUs running at 2.3GHz and 1.6GHz)
32GB storage
microSD slot supporting up to 200GB
Android 6 Marshmallow
12-megapixel rear camera with f/1.7 aperture, dual-pixel phase-detect autofocus
Smaller camera “hump” protrudes only 0.46mm
IP68 dust and water resistance
3,000mAh battery capacity
Price: SIM-free, £480 inc VAT – Buy Now from Amazon

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Display

Aside from those headline changes, though, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is a mild update. The Samsung Galaxy S6 was, and still is, a very good smartphone, so this doesn’t represent too much of a problem.

The S7 has a 5.1in Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1,440 x 2,560 – the same as last year’s Samsung Galaxy S6 – and it’s as sharp as sharp can be. Some might say such a high resolution is pointless; after all, from normal viewing distances most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the S7’s screen and a 1080p one of the same size. At least not without reverting to a magnifying glass.

It’s for use in a VR headset such as the Samsung Gear VR, however, that such high resolutions come into their own. With the phone strapped into a pair of VR goggles, the screen mere centimetres from your eyes, and split in two (one half per eye), the resolution you need for a crisp display skyrockets and every extra pixel counts.

In fact, even with such a high-resolution display, the Samsung Galaxy S7’s screen looks a touch grainy in its VR headset, so the extra resolution isn’t as over the top as it might at first appear.

Buy the Samsung Gear VR now from Amazon

The quality of this new display is excellent, too. Samsung has long perfected the art of producing top-notch screens on its smartphones, somehow managing to tame the oversaturated colours typical of Super AMOLED technology, while delivering something that’s extraordinarily colour-accurate and incredibly punchy all at once. That doesn’t change here.

Contrast is perfect, as you’d expect from a Super AMOLED-based panel. Since the individual pixels provide their own source of light, there’s nothing to leak through from behind and so you get inky, perfect black.

Colour quality is excellent. The phone has several different modes available to use, and it ships with the eye-catching Adaptive mode enabled. That’s the one I tested, and it delivers excellent figures.

With auto-brightness disabled, brightness peaks at 354cd/m2, which doesn’t look all that great. As with previous Samsung handsets, though, that all changes when you enable auto-brightness. On a bright sunny day, the screen is capable of peaking much higher – up to 470cd/m2 – so it should be perfectly readable in most conditions.

Samsung’s Adaptive mode also does a great job of presenting eye-popping graphics without looking too unnatural and covers 100% of the sRGB colour space.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: Design

Also unchanged is the glass-sandwich design and exotic, metallic finish that underpins it. In short, the Samsung Galaxy S7 looks just as good as the Galaxy S6 did last year – all shiny, flashy and glitzy glamour – catching the light in all sorts of interesting ways, and gleaming like freshly polished jewellery. Of all the smartphones I’ve tested over the years, the S7 feels like the most desirable – the most beautiful I’ve laid my hands on.  

There are downsides to the Galaxy S7’s glossy finish, though: it looks terrible once covered in greasy fingerprints, and it picks them up quickly, too. This is a phone that you’ll be wiping several times a day on your shirt or trousers to keep it looking pristine. The good news is that the oleophobic coatings applied to the Gorilla Glass 4 means it’s easy to banish the grease with a couple of scrubs and get it back looking its best.

All the buttons remain in the same locations as on the Galaxy S6. I’m glad to see the home button and fingerprint reader is still below the screen in the centre – I’m not a huge fan of rear-mounted controls. The phone’s single speaker and headset jack flank the phone’s micro USB socket. The volume buttons are on the left edge, the power button on the right, and the combined SIM card and microSD tray is on the top edge of the phone.

Flip the Galaxy S7 over and look at the rear, and you’ll begin to see the first of the physical differences between this phone and last year’s Galaxy S6. First, the much-publicised camera “hump” has been reduced in size, from around 1.6mm on last year’s model to 0.46mm here.

That doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a bigger impact that you might think. A less prominent bump means it lies flatter when you pop it on a wireless charger, so it’s less likely to fail to charge, and it doesn’t tip this way and that if you tap the top corners of the screen when it’s laid on a desk. The camera bulge also has more rounded edges, meaning it’s less likely to catch on your pocket when you’re stowing it away.

The other major aesthetic change is that, by employing a process that Samsung calls “Thermoforming”, there are now curves on both long edges of the rear panel (a bit like on last year’s Galaxy Note 5), lending the phone a softer, pebble-like feel than the more squared-off S6. It also makes it feel a lot smaller than you’d expect it to, and although the S6 is still a great-looking phone, the S7 just pips it in the design stakes. It looks, and feels, much more sophisticated.

The rest of the design is fairly similar to the S6. The buttons and ports are all in the same place: the SIM card and microSD drawer are on the top edge, the volume buttons are on the left, the power button on the right, and the 3.5mm audio, micro-USB port and speaker grille on the bottom.

The only other major difference is the screen’s new always-on capability. As with Motorola’s Moto Display, this shows useful information such as the time and recent notifications on the screen, even when the phone is on standby.

Unlike Motorola’s version, Samsung’s is switched on permanently, and you get a choice of what style of always-on screen is shown. There are seven different basic clock and notification views, ranging from basic digital displays to twin, world clock views. You get a choice of two different calendar views, and three images – a couple of the stars and planets, and another of stylised trees.

Having lived with the S7 for a while now, though, I’m not convinced of the usefulness of this feature. Although it’s nice to be able to see what the time is without tapping the screen or pressing the power button, the fact it doesn’t show more detailed notifications is a big missed opportunity. Although you can see when you’ve missed a call or received a text message, you can’t see who the call or message was sent by. Come on, Samsung – I want more information.

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